Czech Cardinal Duka Discusses His ‘Dubia,’ Radical Secularization, and the Deep Crisis Facing the Church

The archbishop emeritus of Prague responds to criticism of his ‘dubia’ about Holy Communion for remarried-and-divorced couples and discusses the major challenges for the Church in the face of ideologies that are advancing along the road to totalitarianism.

Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka
Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka (photo: Petr Synek)

Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka claimed that the set of questions he recently submitted to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding “the administration of the Eucharist to divorced couples living in a new union” was a private initiative intended to serve the universal Church by remedying the lack of consensus around this issue in recent years.

He spoke to the Register following the publication of the dicastery's responses at the beginning of October, in the sensitive context preceding the opening of the Synod on Synodality, currently underway at the Vatican through Oct. 29. 

Without commenting on the content of the responses, he stressed that he defined himself as “neither progressive nor traditionalist” and recalled that he had acted on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference. 

The initiative of the former archbishop of Prague — who remains a symbolic figure of resistance to the communist dictatorship in the Czech Republic — has drawn criticism from the Czech and Italian press, which have for the most part associated it to an anachronistic resistance movement emanating from marginal ranks of the Church. 

Speaking out against these labels, the prelate, 80, also discussed the origins of the deep crisis facing the Church as an institution, which he sees as inseparable from the anthropological and spiritual crisis of the West, as well as the renewal of faith he foresees for the coming century.

On Behalf of the Czech Bishops

The set of questions submitted to the Holy See on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, July 13, was also meant “to help other dioceses in the world” and, therefore, the “universal Church,” Cardinal Duka told the Register. “I asked the dicastery all the questions that appeared in the discussions within the Czech Bishops’ Conference, not only during the plenary assembly but also in the backstage,” he said.  

The confusion and dissension surrounding the sacraments for remarried-and-divorced couples have their origins in the 2015 Synod on the Family, the interpretation of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) as well as the Pope’s letter to bishops from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires in 2016. In fact, some Church leaders and theologians found passages in these documents that seemed to contrast with the Church’s moral teaching, and which, for some, remain to be properly addressed.

Reaffirming the importance of unwavering loyalty between the bishops and the Pope, Cardinal Duka stressed that “bishops also have a share in the teaching office of the Church, always following the principle cum Petro et sub Petro” and considered, in this respect, that these discussions should have taken place internally, without being made public.

“I consider myself neither a progressive nor a traditionalist,” he added referring to the criticism that the various dubia have aroused in the press and in some Vatican circles. “We must follow the Church’s teaching on the teaching function of the Pope, the College of Bishops and the Second Vatican Council,” he declared, pointing out that “the Pope’s pronouncements as head of the Church concern faith and morals — and not other matters, such as political issues.”

Leave Politics to Well-Trained Laypeople 

Cardinal Duka, known for his frankness (notably when defending Benedict XVI against criticism from German Church leaders, in 2022, about his handling of abuse cases as an archbishop decades earlier, which he described as “treason” and “defamation”), believes that current tensions in the Church also stem from the over-involvement of its hierarchy in temporal affairs in recent decades.

For him, the collapse of the bipolar Washington-Moscow world in the ’90s with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the resulting political and economic chaos in the Southern Hemisphere, has led the Holy See to become too heavily involved in the economic and political sphere through themes such as the fight against poverty or the safeguarding of the planet, “sometimes in a way that is more ideological than politically rational.”

“I believe that these issues, including those related to environment, should be entirely in the hands of the faithful, the educated laity, scientific and political experts. There is no need to enlarge certain dicasteries which tackle these questions in all goodwill but are in fact unable to solve anything,” he said. Hence the importance, in his view, of strengthening the formation of Catholics, both in the Church’s educational institutions and outside, so as to be able to face the great challenges of our time.

Facing New Totalitarianism 

The greatest of these challenges, in his view, is that of the “explosion of radical secularization” in the West today, caused by movements “seeking the literal destruction of contemporary, essentially Christian Western civilization,” which have corrupted many institutions and which have also “found a fifth column in part of the Church.” 

In his view, these movements, which culminate in “wokeism” and all its affiliated pro-minority ideologies, have their direct origins in the period of the sexual revolution of the 1970s and the revolutionary terrorist groups (such as the Red Brigades) that raged in Europe until the early 1980s. 

“These philosophical currents, which combine Platonic utopianism, Hegelian evolutionism, Marx’s materialist class struggle and Freud’s sexual revolution, are still present in a number of politico-cultural movements in the West, particularly among environmentalists,” he noted. 

“Many bishops, theologians, researchers and politicians agree with me that these new movements, which Pope Francis describes as ‘ideological colonization,’ are moving further and further along the road to totalitarianism.”

It’s a topic the prelate knows particularly well, having himself been imprisoned under the Czechoslovakian communist regime for his clandestine religious activities in the early ’80s, alongside the country’s future president Václav Havel.

“In the first two decades after the fall of communism [in 1989], the post-Soviet countries and their national Churches were able to resist the advance of these ideologies,” he continued. “However, the new generation, who has lived in an era of freedom without knowing this experience outside the testimony of their grandparents, tend to be seduced by an idealized image of life under communism, which would be the fairy tale of a classless society, spared from life’s uncertainties.”

He reckons that in Western Europe, while most Protestant churches “de facto rallied to these movements many years ago,” the Catholic Church had managed to limit the damage until the recent past. “Alas, the effects of globalization, the changing influences of countries and continents within the Catholic Church, particularly through waves of migration — of people but also of ideas and ideologies — have created total chaos,” he stated.

Between Crisis, Stagnation and Renewal of the Church

The effects of this profound crisis in Western civilization, which does not spare the Church, have manifested themselves in various ways over the last few decades, starting with the scourge of sexual abuse, which Cardinal Duka attributes in part to the greater “tolerance towards certain acts and their perpetrators,” resulting from the sexual revolution, as well as to the “cowardice” of certain Church leaders in the face of “pressure from the LGBT lobby,” which has created a kind of “defensive bulwark” for certain abusers over the last decade.  

The cardinal believes that this deep wound has encouraged the emergence of protest movements such as the Synodal Way in Germany, which may also have accelerated the process around the Synod on Synodality, wanted by Pope Francis. Indeed, some observers postulate that this synod may have been convened in an attempt to keep this fringe of the Church in Germany within the global synodal process.

“The reasons for this synodal path are not yet well known, but as a participant in a number of bishops’ synods, I have to admit that, in a way, the themes had become stagnant and it was difficult to find new synodal themes,” said Cardinal Duka, expressing at the same time his conviction that this 21st century will mark a renewal of faith and of the Church, notably in view of the intensity of the persecutions that the faithful are undergoing all over the world, as in the Church of the first centuries.

“Faith, from which hope and love flow, is the source from which the Church of the 21st century will live,” the cardinal continued, adding that “it will certainly also give women their full place.” 

Speaking directly about the role of women in the Church, the cardinal invoked the heroic faith of great women saints and marytrs, “Remember Sts. Sabina, Perpetua, Lucia, Clotilde, Gisela, Ludmila, Doubravka, Olga, Kunhuta. ... These women embodied the cradle of Christianity in our lands.” He concluded: “They may not have been deaconesses, they may not have been priests, they may not have been bishops, but many bishops should definitely ‘envy’ them.”